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11 Feb 2021 | 12:40

UK officials concerned by continued mutations in Covid-19 strains

(Sharecast News) - A top UK health official expressed concern about the likely spread of the so-called UK variant worldwide and the fact that it was continuing to mutate. In remarks to the BBC, Sharon Peacock, the director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium, said that those mutations might potentially undermine the shot.

"What's concerning about this is that the 1.1.7 variant that we have had circulating for some weeks and months is beginning to mutate again and get new mutations which could affect the way that we handle the virus in terms of immunity and effectiveness of vaccines."

"It's concerning that the 1.1.7, which is more transmissible, which has swept the country, is now mutating to have this new mutation that could threaten vaccination."

Peacock was referring to the latest E484K mutation detected in Bristol the day before which the New and Emerging Virus Threats Advisory Group had designated as a "variant of concern".

That mutation, similar to that in new virus strains in Brazil and South Africa, affects the virus's so-called spike protein, the same one that most vaccines target, with any changes potentially lessening vaccines' effectiveness.

Current vaccines remained effective against the UK strains of the virus, but epidemiologists were increasingly concerned that at some point a mutation might allow the virus to achieve "escape".

Vaccinations in the UK were however continuing apace and the number of daily new infections was continuing to decline at a steady pace.

Perhaps more importantly, authorities had adopted at least some measures to detect and try to dampen or snuff out surges of new variants - although it remained to be seen whether that would suffice.

Another silver lining was that the worrying new strain, of which only 21 cases had been detected, had been picked up by enhanced surveillance for new strains.

Even so, said Peacock: "Once we get on top of (the virus) or it mutates itself out of being virulent - causing disease - then we can stop worrying about it. But I think, looking in the future, we're going going to be doing this for years. We're still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view."

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